Shelf Awareness for Monday, June 8, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly


Philadelphia's People's Books & Culture Closing

People's Books & Culture, formerly the Penn Book Center, Philadelphia, Pa., which was founded in 1962, is closing permanently, owners Matt Duquès and Diana Bellonby announced late last week.

Since buying the store last August, the pair had begun making a range of changes (including a new name) at the bookstore and hoped, they said, to achieve a level of financial sustainability, not profitability. "However, our modest goal of sustainability required a healthy economy, active university community, and renovations that would bring that community inside our doors," Duquès and Bellonby wrote. "These renovations were scheduled to begin in mid March. That very week, the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Sadly, in the time of Covid-19, our vision for PBC is no longer a viable one. We have invested countless hours and thousands of dollars into the process of revitalizing the store. We no longer have the resources to keep enduring losses, and we think the resources we do have are better directed toward social justice movements, particularly the fight against systemic, anti-Black racism."

Last year Penn Book Center's previous owners had said they were going to close it, which led to a groundswell of support from University of Pennsylvania faculty and students, including rallies and a petition that gained 5,000 signatures. Duquès and Bellonby had been in the process of moving to Philadelphia and planned to open a bookstore when they heard of the Penn Book Center's problems.

"We chose to become the new owners of PBC because we wanted to save a longstanding cultural institution valued by a loyal community of writers, readers, teachers, and students. Throughout the summer of 2019, we studied the business's unique struggles and created a long-term plan for revival. The store's location between two Barnes & Nobles, its old systems, unculled inventory, minimal social media presence, misleading name, and distressed physical state meant that we expected to devote at least two years and many thousands of dollars to abate losses and begin to break even....

"Throughout the fall and winter, we planned a renovation intended to transform the space from an overcrowded, chair-less shop into a beautiful, community-oriented haven. The Penn Book Center had enjoyed a long history of textbook sales, so the space was designed to get people in and out. Our goal for People's Books & Culture was to create a welcoming environment for booklovers to sit, socialize, and stay a while. Community, we believed, was essential to the store's rehabilitation. We drew upon its well-established community, eliciting dozens of suggestions, when selecting a new name. People's Books & Culture was inspired by a Penn graduate student in English and Africana Studies....

"We are deeply grateful to PBC's customers for your remarkable number of online purchases during the past two and a half months. We have loved reading your notes of support and solidarity. Your purchases have helped us pay staff, cover rental fees, and limit losses. We are thankful to Penn Real Estate for granting us base rent relief for the past three months. Above all, we are grateful to our employees for their work during a devastating time, and for their exceptional bookselling and event planning throughout the past year."

Duquès and Bellonby noted that in their eight months of ownership they hosted "nearly 200 amazing in-store readings and book launches"; raised wages to an average of $16 an hour from $9.50 an hour "despite ongoing losses"; contributed to local organizations, including WEPAC, BlueStoop and the Philadelphia Emergency Writers Fund; and "supported the arts and critical thinking during a time when the humanities desperately need funding."

They closed by asking customers to "join us in giving if/what you can to local organizations combating police brutality and white-supremacist structures of oppression. Recently, the Philadelphia Bail Fund announced that they are well-funded to ensure that protesters return home. This is good news, but other organizations need our help: Black Lives Matter Philly, the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project, and Reclaim Philadelphia, among others. We encourage fellow booklovers to support Philly's Black-owned bookstores--Harriett's, Hakim's, and Uncle Bobbie's--as well as West Philly's new nonprofit cooperative, Making Worlds Bookstore & Social Center. Here's how you can help these stores weather this public health crisis: donate to Harriett's Bookshop via Venmo @harriettsbookshop; contribute to the GoFundMe pages for Making Worlds and Uncle Bobbie's; or shop at Uncle Bobbie's expanding online store."

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace

Minneapolis Bookstores Update: DreamHaven; Uncle Hugo's/Uncle Edgar's

DreamHaven Books & Comics, Minneapolis, Minn., which was badly damaged in the first protests after the murder of George Floyd, has created a crowdsourcing campaign, "DreamHaven Restoration," that has raised more than $17,000 toward its goal of $25,000.

Owner Greg Ketter wrote on the page, in part, that during the initial protests, "Some individuals took advantage of a chaotic situation to do serious damage to hundreds of businesses in the area.

"Early Saturday morning, May 30th a group of young males drove up, smashed the front door, entered the store and ransacked the building. They broke glass, toppled shelves, threw things around and took what they could carry before neighbors frightened them off. They tried to start a fire but luckily they were incompetent arsonists. The fire went out.

"So many lost so much. To be honest, our need is smaller than many, but there is still need. Insurance will cover some of the costs, many of which we're not even aware of yet. We're replacing what was lost, repairing what was broken. We'll be closed for a short time yet, but things are moving quickly and I hope we can re-open very soon."

Ketter noted, "I'm a very proud person (I've turned into my father) and asking for help is not something I'm comfortable doing. People have already shown me incredible kindnesses and offers of help and I can't tell you how much that means to me. The messages of love and concern, of how much my store has meant to people, have touched me tremendously. I am truly blessed and I thank you all. Please be safe."


The Official Help Save Uncle Hugo's Fund has raised some $115,000 of its goal of $500,000, to help build Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore, which were burned to the ground in the early days of the Minneapolis protests against the murder of George Floyd.

Over the weekend, Sam Blyly-Strauss had an update on the efforts of his father, Don Blyly, to see about insurance help for the store. He wrote in part: "It looks like he should be paid for approximately 90% of the wholesale value of the inventory within 30 days, but the building is a bit more complicated. He's still not sure if he's going to try to rebuild on the same site, buy or rent a different building and relocate, or switch to a mail-order business from his home." An insurance adjuster will provide "more numbers regarding how much of the rebuild cost will be covered, and he'll need to crunch more numbers on how much a rebuild would cost with some upgrades he had in mind (rooftop solar panels, higher ceilings in the basement, larger basement, etc.) before he'll be able to decide which route he'll be going."

Blyly-Strauss added that in the next week his father plans to start selling Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's T-shirts and sweatshirts that were ordered before the fire and arrived at his house this week.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

Indie Booksellers Speak Out: Free Books at Protests, Statements of Support, Helping Black Booksellers

Covid-19 pandemic regulations have strictly limited the extent to which indie bookstores can use their physical spaces, as they traditionally have, to be places of sanctuary and communication during times of crisis. Nonetheless, booksellers are making their voices heard in other ways, through fundraising efforts, donations, book recommendations, statements of support and much more, including free books for protestors.

Handing out books to marchers outside Harriett's Bookshop (via)

"With a face mask secured and a large bag filled with books positioned across her shoulders," Jeannine Cook, owner of Harriett's Bookshop, Philadelphia, Pa., "(with the help of her mother, her son, and his girlfriend) headed to City Hall to offer free books to the hundreds of protesters who poured into the streets," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The books were Kate Clifford Larson's Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero and The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," she said. "We can look at what's already been done and build on that. So those are the two books I focused on, but there are so many more." She added that her 16-year-old son, Messiah, and his girlfriend, Brianna, were the inspiration for the idea. "If you're going to be out there resisting" and on the front lines of the movement, "then we also need to be on the [community]-building side of things. That's what I've been trying to do to support the young people that are in my life."

Since the start of the area protests, Cook said the group has handed out at least 100 books, and protesters have shown "much gratitude.... I'm trying to figure out what else we can get because the books went so fast."

She has received donations from the shop's Venmo account (@harriettsbookshop) and is using the money to "get more books on the street." Cook said she wants to do everything she can to help young people during this time of civil unrest. To her, "this is their effort."

With her team, she has also been passing out books outside the bookshop on Girard Avenue and around the city, as well as on "a turnaround trip" to Minneapolis. 'It's been so organic," she said. "We go wherever we know there's a march or wherever we know there's action happening.... There are a million different ways that we can approach social ills," Cook said. "Everyone is out there holding up signs, and there's no problem with that. We're going to hold up books."


Black Lives Matter window display at DIESEL.

In their monthly e-letter to customers, John Evans and Allison Reid, co-owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore in Brentwood and Del Mar, Calif., observed that while their recent letters had dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic, "now we are dealing with a centuries-old plague that has never been successfully defeated in our country--structural racism. The video of George Floyd's death under the hands and knees of three Minneapolis policemen has traumatized a nation not because it is new, but because it is so vividly horrific, pornographic, and obscene that anyone who sees it clearly experiences the cold-eyed, heartless violence that has been visited on black bodies and souls for 500 years.

"The passionate outrage by caring human beings throughout the whole country and the world has been, and continues to be, extraordinary. The success of this massive intention to create a racially just police force and society is yet to be seen. Our readers have responded with an increased desire to be better anti-racists, better at transforming our city, state and country to be a more just society. Enough is enough. May the protests continue until justice, not structural racist violence, reigns."

DIESEL highlighted numerous options for helping the cause, as well as some suggested reads and, for those interested in donating, a list of organizations "that have maintained a mostly decades-long commitment to exactly these issues, working in the trenches to improve fatally unjust structures of our society," including Equal Justice Society, Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and "many others, of course."


In a blog post titled "Black Booksellers Matter," Nicole Sullivan, owner of BookBar, Denver, Colo., wrote in part, "I am a white woman of inherent (and otherwise) privilege so I'm not confident that I can contribute anything profound to the conversation. All I can say is that I stand with you. I support you. And I will do my part."

She focused on "some things that we and other independent bookstores across the nation can do." These include making a commitment to hiring a diversified staff; supporting and amplifying black voices (through displays, shelf-talkers and knowledgeable staff, and breaking "your own rules of event requirements for authors of color"); holding mandatory diversity training for staff; hosting anti-racist book clubs; donating a percentage of sales to a black-led nonprofit organization; and giving to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc).

Nicole Sullivan

Perhaps most important--and something Sullivan has excelled at--she advocated mentoring a bookseller of color. "Really, the most important thing I wanted to say, that sparked this entire letter, is that I'm more committed than ever to giving my time to people of color who want to open bookstores. I had the honor of working with my now good friend, Noëlle Santos, when she opened the Lit. Bar, the only bookstore in the Bronx. She is having an immense impact on her community and the entire bookselling industry. Unfortunately, the shut-down canceled the plans of a potential bookseller from Memphis and another from Atlanta to stay at BookBed, our apartment above the bookstore, to learn some hands-on bookselling. Their plans to pursue their dreams have been delayed but hopefully not dashed. More bookstores in more communities, curated by people of color are a necessity. I hope more booksellers will consider mentoring and providing consultation services as well."

Obituary Note: Grace Edwards

Grace Edwards, the mystery author who wrote the Mali Anderson series that began with If I Should Die, died on February 25 at age 87. According to Edwards's daughter, who confirmed the news to the New York Times, Edwards had had dementia for three years.

Despite being a lifelong writer, Edwards did not publish her first novel, a coming-of-age story set in Harlem during World War II called In the Shadow of the Peacock, until she was 55. She went on to publish six detective novels, all featuring the character Mali Anderson and all set in Harlem. 

Edwards had a varied career before becoming an author. In the late 1960s she and a friend owned an Afrocentric dress shop in West Harlem called Neferti, an intentional misspelling of Nefertiti due to another business already having that name. In the 1970s she was a disability analyst in New York State's social services department, and in 1984 she became the secretary of the Harlem Writers Guild. From 2007 to 2016 she was the Guild's executive director, and she taught creative writing at several colleges and universities around New York.

Diane Richards, current executive director of the Harlem Writers Guild, wrote that Edwards's "take on Harlem is authentic, and captures the essence of its pain, pride and joy in all of her literary works."

June Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Last Thursday, the American Booksellers Association's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for June was delivered to nearly 700,000 of the country's best book readers. The newsletter was sent to customers of 171 independent bookstores, with a combined total of 670,956 subscribers.

The e-newsletter, powered by Shelf Awareness, features all of the month's Indie Next List titles, with bookseller quotes and "buy now" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on the sending store's website. The newsletter, which is branded with each store's logo, also includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author whose book was chosen by booksellers as the number-one Indie Next List pick for the month, in this case A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Knopf).

For a sample of the June newsletter, see this one from Givens Books & Little Dickens, Lynchburg, Va.


Video: Cultural Institutions at Times of Social Unrest

As part of the National Book Festival Presents series for June, "Connecting the World With Words," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie Bunch discussed the future of their institutions and how they remain accessible and relevant during a period of global pandemic coupled with nationwide protests against injustice. Bunch is the author of A Fool's Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Era of Bush, Obama, and Trump (Smithsonian Books).

Fla.'s Midtown Reader Gets New Wheels for Deliveries

Midtown Reader, Tallahassee, Fla., shared photos of its new delivery car, which "will be hitting the roads to deliver books to you! Thanks so much to Apogee Signs for the amazing design. We’ll be booking it...."


Masking Up: Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore

Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore, Chatham, Mass., called upon Harry Potter (actually, a cardboard cutout version of the boy wizard) to set a good example for customers. Harry is masked up at the store's entrance as the state enters Phase 2 today and the bookshop begins "offering socially-distanced APPOINTMENTS for those who feel more comfortable alone in the bookstore for the time being. We understand. We love our community and want everyone to be and feel safe!"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Doug Swanson on Fresh Air

CBS This Morning: Chris Wallace, co-author of Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982143343). He will also appear tomorrow on the View and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Fresh Air: Doug Swanson, author of Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers (Viking, $28, 9781101979860).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: Nicole Byer, author of #VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE: The Fat Girl's Guide to Being #Brave and Not a Dejected, Melancholy, Down-in-the-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl in a Bikini (Andrews McMeel, $19.99, 9781524850746).

Good Morning America: Adrienne Bankert, author of Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You with Anyone (HarperCollins Leadership, $24.99, 9781400218141). She will also be on the View.

TV: Perry Mason

HBO released a new trailer for Perry Mason, based on characters from Erle Stanley Gardner's novels. Indiewire reported that "audiences can walk the gritty streets of 1940s Los Angeles.... Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is a war veteran who appears to be doing small-time jobs as a private investigator. As the streets are filled with prostitutes and government corruption, business seems to be booming. But when a toddler is killed in a 'kidnapping gone wrong' (involving the famous Los Angeles Angel's Flight), Mason becomes the go-to man to solve the case."

The cast also includes Tatiana Maslany, John Lithgow, Chris Chalk, Shea Whigham, Juliet Rylance, Nate Corddry, Veronica Falcon, Jefferson Mays, Gayle Rankin, Lili Taylor, Andrew Howard, Robert Patrick and Stephen Root. Perry Mason premieres on HBO June 21.

Books & Authors

Awards: CWA Dagger Longlists

The Crime Writers Association announced the longlists for the annual Dagger Awards. Shortlists will be revealed later this year and winners announced at the Dagger Awards ceremony in London, which is scheduled for October 22. The 2020 Diamond Dagger, celebrating the recipient's contribution to crime fiction, will be given to author Martin Edwards. Check out the complete Dagger longlists here.

Reading Group Choices' Most Popular May Books

The two most popular books in May at Reading Group Choices were Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (St. Martin's Press) and The Paris Hours by Alex George (Flatiron Books).

Book Review

Review: The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia with poems by J. Hope Stein (Grand Central, $28 hardcover, 256p., 9781538701515, June 16, 2020)

By the time a significant number of fathers began publishing books about the trials of parenthood, moms could be forgiven for thinking, "You're a little late to the party, guys." The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is not an offering that will inspire this reaction. For one reason, comedian and actor Mike Birbiglia has written a very funny book. For another, Birbiglia claims original territory--new-dad jealousy--and marks it with both jokes and, just when the reader is poised for another punchline, devastatingly blunt confessions.

Birbiglia never wanted to be a parent. Among the arguments on his seven-point list of reasons why not: "I don't know anything" ("My brain is like a Snapple cap. It can hold one piece of information at a time") and, given the world's ballooning population, "There shouldn't be children anymore" ("I think the current children can finish out their term, but maybe we cut it off there"). His no-kids position is uncontroversial when he marries Jen, a poet whose work features in The New One: she doesn't want kids either. Until one day she does.

The first half of The New One finds the couple preoccupied with conceiving and then weathering the pregnancy's difficulties ("Jen is pregnant for about seventy-five months.... And the pregnancy is brutal./ It's hard for her too"). After baby Oona comes on the scene at the book's midpoint, Birbiglia can still see the humor in his situation ("When I change a diaper it takes fifteen minutes and looks like a paper mâché sculpture of a broken chair"), but he finds himself experiencing an unexpected status nosedive: "I am demoted to the intern of the family." He also didn't foresee that the baby would be an all-consuming force who would hold Jen's attention hostage. Birbiglia writes that at his personal nadir he had this thought: "I get why dads leave."

In The New One, as in his previous book, Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories, Birbiglia toggles easily between the droll and the pitch-black thanks to what seems to be his innate cheerfulness: he never manages to stay on the dark side for too long. A year into being a dad, Birbiglia seems to have made peace with his circumstances and even finds occasion to feel triumphant: "At one year old, Oona eats solid foods and at age forty I start to eat vegetables." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: Comedian/actor Mike Birbiglia writes about his jealousy of his new baby with genuine wit and occasional perplexity.

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